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This is the practice frequently seen in visual media (but sometimes elsewhere), possibly as a result of The Law of Conservation of Detail, in which a character that winds up in jail on account of getting into some kind of trouble (the more absurd the charges, the better) need only make bail, and be on their way.

In Real Life, it almost never works that way. Posting bail is usually seen as a promise that the individual in question will show up for a later court date, and possibly sentencing. Jumping bail is heavily frowned upon too. But in fiction land, bail is little more than paying a fine to make your problem go away, as if the world operated on Monopoly logic.

Sometimes, a character may pay a small, inconsequential fine in-between episodes after posting bail, as yet another insurance that the problem won't linger. Then again, that's not usually considered to be worth the effort to show. Bail equaling automatic freedom is generally considered to be a flagrant case of Artistic License Law.

Examples

Comic books

  • Zigzagged in the Lucky Luke album Belle Starr. The titular character buys off key officials to excuse posting bail so she can hire new recruits.

Film

  • Used a few times in the Midnight Run. Jack's job is to hunt down bail-jumpers, so him being able to erase things with simply posting bail makes very little sense.
  • Averted in Shaft, which plays fast-and-loose with law enforcement on pretty much every other count.
  • Buddy in Elf merely gets bail, and nothing else, after attacking a Mall Santa.
  • Tomorrowland has this issue with Casey's arrest. She is presumably in jail for three days (but it flashes by in seconds), and it is said she made bail. How, is never explained. Presumably, her father got her out. But how does he have that kind of money? Also, he "climbed through hurdles" to keep Homeland Security off her back. How? That almost sounds like it'd make an even more interesting movie than the film itself! Also, she is shown wearing the same outfit as she had when arrested. Except, she'd be made aware of bail long before being allowed to change into her civilian clothes. If kept in custody for three days, she would have been put in Institutional Apparel, and probably been allowed at least one shower. No mention is made of a later court date, which would definitely be the case if she were sabotaging government property.
    • Her staying in Tomorrowland could arguably be a case of bail-jumping. Then again, she commits so many other felonies in her quest to save the future, this sort of makes sense.

Literature

  • Around the World in Eighty Days has Phileas Fogg and Passepartout merely post bail, and not have another worry afterward; even though they'd desecrated a temple.

Live action TV

  • Used frequently in the original Knight Rider series. Michael can usually count on the Foundation to make his problems disappear, no matter what crime he's charged with.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl feels compelled to help his ex-wife Joy make bail. Of course, this goes horribly wrong, as she's on her third strike and bail is at a million. The antics Earl must go through to save others throughout the series lead to him having up to ten strikes at least, but he is always able somehow to post bail, breaking the show's internal logic.
  • Defied on Frasier, as Maris is refused bail when she is assumed to be a flight risk. (A misunderstanding about her purse contents.)

Webcomics

  • Averted, defied, and inverted in Sodality. Candi could easily post bail with her money, but is often encouraged not to given that she has so many enemies on the outside, and that SCALLOP can use her behind bars to advocate for them. Given her illegal DNA via the Kirby Act, she's likely to wind up back in jail even if she doesn't do anything explicitly criminal at some point anyway. So she may as well save her money.
    • That being said, none of the Sodality girls seems to spend more than two weeks tops behind bars at any particular location, before being let out or transferred elsewhere. The "consensual two-week stay in SCALLOP jail" becomes a sort of substitute for either bail or trial sentencing, where they could have to pay real money and/or wind up facing a longer sentence in a more realistic facility.
    • Given what dangerous vigilantes they are, it's surprising they aren't in for life, in spite never being allowed to post bail.

Western animation

  • On Futurama, Bender gets arrested for serial graffiti. Bail is posted, and the case is treated like it never happened.
  • In the South Park episode "The Losing Edge," Randy gets out on bail after several assaults. And after paying bail one time, continues to get in assaults in which there appear to be zero consequences.
  • One major problem with the plot to Big Hero Six. After Hiro and Tadashi get bail, the case completely disappears. How Cass had the money for both of them is never explained either. How Baymax's low battery antics didn't get Hiro back in trouble is never explained either.

Real life

  • Georgia does allow this for minor traffic violations. Most states allow you to pay a fine before your court date, thus signing a form confessing guilt. In Georgia, however, the money you pay is simply your "bail." You still have to show up to court, and failure to do so is a no contest forfeiture.
  • Traffic tickets are generally considered a form of bail in most of the US. Fix-it tickets are an especially obvious case of this, as repairing the vehicle and showing evidence of repairs is usually enough to make the entire case vanish. Though, showing the evidence of repairs is considered an admission of guilt. About the only time this scenario doesn't work out is in the event of an OWI or a DUI.
  • The practice of misdemeanor citation/"notice to appear" exists in the US in cases where the localities simply don't have the resources to jail every single minor offender of drug possession or a petty brawl or what-not, reducing these minor crimes to the same stigma level as a traffic offense.
  • "Short arrest" is common for a wealthier individual who is a minor offender in some cases, where they still have the humiliation of being booked; but can pay the fine and avoid spending time with "general population" offenders.
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